Most of us take our holiday experiences for granted, but for many people living with disabilities, both planning and taking a holiday can actually be pretty tough work.
For those with mobility issues or travelling with a wheelchair, hours of research has to go into finding accessible accommodation, vehicles, and looking into whether sites theyâ€™d like to visit are suitable for people living with their conditions. Those that are blind or deaf also have to consider many things before they book a trip, and many people are unable to travel alone as they need some level of support or care.
I myself have mobility issues. Iâ€™m pretty lucky in what Iâ€™m capable of doing, but any holiday plan starts with a checklist my partner and I work through to decide whether a location is suitable for me and my needs. Like the majority of people living with a disability we donâ€™t let it stop us from really living our lives to the full, but there are often many things we accept weâ€™ll be unable to take part in. This was why I was really excited to discover a new company called Seable, which does all the hard work for you, offering a range of accessible holiday experiences in Sicily.
I caught up with the man behind Seable, Damiano La Rocca, to find out how the company began, what it offers disabled travellers and how it plans to expand!
How and when did Seable first come about?
Three years ago, when I finished university, I looked to start this project. I got support from a business incubator, did the research and officially opened the company in 2012.
It all began because of my dadâ€™s business in Sicily â€“ he has been offering scuba diving to disabled people for 15 years now. At the beginning I just wanted to see how people would respond to a scuba diving holiday in Sicily.
In my head it was an amazing idea â€“ no one else was doing this. But not everyone wanted to come and scuba dive and so I looked to expand what I offered and realised there wasnâ€™t many accessible options. So, I went to Sicily two summers in a row to develop accessible offerings. Iâ€™m now able to organise everything from the transport and accommodation through to excursions and sports. Everything is accessible and the company can deal with lots of different disabilities.
What made you decide to focus entirely on accessible holidays for disabled travellers?
I was really looking to do something that would showcase my fatherâ€™s work. In the past 15 years heâ€™s helped a lot of people learn to scuba dive and two of his disabled students even achieved Guinness World Records! One was for the first paraplegic man to dive 59 metres and the other was for the first blind woman to dive 41 metres.
Even though he had so many success stories of rehabilitation through accessible sports, he wasnâ€™t getting much attention from government or getting any funding.
Being in London for university, I saw there might be more opportunities and I was able to gain several lots of funding that allowed me to get Seable up and running. Through this support I was able to invest in advertising and marketing that led to my first clients last year.
How did you build up your contacts and discover, or create, these accessible excursions?
It took me a long time, two summers, to actually put everything together. Some of the excursions were organised by an old uni professor I knew whoâ€™s a volcanologist. He knew all the ways around Mount Etna, was able to show me which roads were accessible and which paths would be ok for wheelchairs.
Other activities came together through collaborations with local charities or just contacting local businesses and discussing accessibility. Thereâ€™s actually very little that you need to do to make some things accessible, and people sometimes donâ€™t realise that they can offer an accessible service. You just have to show them how.
I offer lots of sports, mainly these are for the deaf and blind although the scuba diving is available to everyone. For wheelchair users the focus is on excursions – many are gastronomic, including a trip where you can make your own olive oil! Thereâ€™s also the volcano and several historic and cultural trips on offer.
It sounds like youâ€™re opening a lot of doors in regards to accessibility in Sicily and also helping local businesses expand.
I was discussing this recently on a Google Hangout about accessible travel. Places all over Europe have accessible rooms and facilities but they often donâ€™t actually tell you about it online. If you go on Booking.com rarely do hotels put that they have accessible rooms. For me it was just a discovery, I went to these places to see for myself.
Who have your clients been so far and what have you been able to offer them then?
Iâ€™ve had an amazing variety of clients and have been able to cater for a wide range of disabilities. Many people with wheelchairs have visited, all with different levels of disability.
An amazing blind Paralympic swimmer came on holiday through Seable last year. I have about 20 different sports activities that I can do with blind people and he almost ticked all of them! He did scuba diving, wind surfing, 4×4 driving and jet skiing. He enjoyed himself so much that heâ€™s returning this year.
He loved the scuba diving so much that he decided to continue with scuba courses back at home and heâ€™s planning to try and beat the blind diving Guinness World Record in 2015.
Have you evolved your offerings as youâ€™ve met different people and discovered specific needs or requests?
One client was a blind veteran, 82 years old, and he came on his own. Through him I was able to discover an overlooked aspect of accessible travel: that it can be really hard to travel on your own if you have a disability. So, by providing a chaperone I can allow anyone to holiday on their own if they wish. I didnâ€™t understand how much of a big deal this could be to a disabled traveller before. Now its something I understand and have adopted into my offerings.
This is what I want – to offer a holiday that gives people the chance to try new things, become more independent and improve their lifestyle a little bit.
Youâ€™ve worked hard to create and build Seable, so what are your plans for this year and beyond?
This year I have many more clients, which is great, and Iâ€™ve also started collaborating with charities. I have my first charity trip coming to Sicily in September. A group of about 16 disabled people are coming, aged between 18 and 25. Theyâ€™re going to be taking part in wind surfing, scuba divining and travelling to Mount Etna. Itâ€™s a great achievement for me and the company, and itâ€™s great to have a charity see the potential in what I can offer!
At the moment Iâ€™m training people in Sicily to deal with clients that want to go there, so I can then free myself up to look for more destinations. The UK is on my top list because a lot of people canâ€™t afford to travel too far. Iâ€™m considering winter sports and Iâ€™m talking to a couple of charities that offer sports for wheelchair users. Iâ€™ve also been visiting the Czech Republic and hopefully Iâ€™ll get invited to other places to see more activities.
Seable offers accessible holidays to deaf, visually and physically impaired travellers. It offers range of accessible activities that have proven to enhance the holiday experience alongside gaining new life skills. Find out more at http://www.seable.co.uk/.